Non-Estonian job seekers face a lot of challenges, as most of them don't speak Estonian and are not familiar with the kind of jobs required in the Estonian market. Some complain that the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa) doesn’t provide the necessary counseling and guidance they would need to be able to find jobs.
“We are buying the fish while it’s still in the water,” Mohammed, 41, describes his search for a job here in Estonia. Mohammed, who is from Iraq, uses the Arabic saying to describe the state of uncertainty and confusion foreigners face when trying to enter the labor force here.
A father of three, Mohammed told ERR News that he has been looking for a job for months now. “It's so hard obviously to find a job here that matches my set of skills,” he says.
A blacksmith and welder with fifteen years experience, Mohammed registered with Töötukassa, but has been offered jobs not related to his skill set. He says he has been offered work in a laundry, a profession he considers completely irrelevant to his work experience. He now receives 130 euros in subsistence support from the government.
Portuguese Robert Soares, 36, did not fare any better when he first moved into Estonia in 2014. After marrying an Estonian woman, whom he met in the United States, he decided to move to Estonia because his wife's situation was better than his.
After he arrived, he was jobless for six months. “I was lucky because my wife was there for me. She helped me through that difficult time and used to come along to Töötukassa to translate for me,” he says.
Statistics Estonia demonstrates that the unemployment rate is higher among non-Estonians. In the first quarter of 2016, the unemployment rate among Estonians was 5.1%, compared to 9.8% among non-Estonians. Compared to the first quarter of the previous year, the unemployment rate has fallen by 0.7 percentage points among Estonians, while the number among non-Estonians has gone up by 1.2 percentage points.
“The unemployed foreigners do not differ greatly from Estonians who are registered as unemployed. Some of them will find a job very quickly, and some of them can remain unemployed for a longer period. It depends greatly on the person’s motivation to find a job,” Krislin Padjus, a counseling specialist, and Jevgenia Smirnova, a service manager on labor market training at Töötukassa, told ERR News.
The importance of training
Soares believes that he could have remained jobless longer if it hadn’t been for his wife, who would go with him and ask a lot of questions about training and related matters.
At one of the training workshops organized by Töötukassa, trainees were asked to share their thoughts about why they think it was they could not find jobs. When Soares spoke about himself, the trainer asked him if he would be interested to work in a warehouse as a forklift driver, and he showed interest.
In his next monthly appointment with Töötukassa, Soares says he asked his consultant for training on how to drive forklifts, and he was provided that training. He says he started working as soon as he had finished the training, adding that he is happy with his current job.
According to Töötukassa’s data, 54.8% of participants in training were employed within six months after completing it.
Reluctance to provide training
“One of the main issues people face is that Töötukassa seems quite reluctant to pay for training. Therefore, you have to be very persistent in asking for it yourself,” Soares says, adding that there is also a lack of counseling, as foreigners don't know what kind of training might help them get hired.
Mohammed shared Soares’ thinking. “I asked the Estonian Unemployment Fund to provide me with competency training so I can get a certificate that would help me get a job and open my own business in the future, and have been waiting for that training for two months,” he says.
“The foreigners who are registered as unemployed here in Estonia have the same rights as Estonians. The unemployed can be assigned to training courses only after establishing which type of knowledge and skills they need in order to find a new job and after analyzing the regional demand for labor,” Padjus and Smirnova of Töötukassa sum up the issue.
They point out that Töötukassa bases its assessment on a number of factors, including the previous education and work experience as well as an individual’s set of skills. The positions which the person is applying for and his activity in searching for a job is also taken into consideration.
The biggest challenge is the language barrier
The language barrier is unarguably one of the biggest challenges facing non-Estonian job seekers, as most of them don’t speak Estonian. Many employers prefer those who can speak Estonian, Russian, and English.
“Töötukassa used to let me know that a company was hiring, but when I went there they would ask me whether I could speak Estonian and Russian besides English. Once they found out that I speak neither Estonian nor Russian, they would just take my CV and never contact me again,” Soares said.
Mohammed agrees. “Everybody is telling me that I have to speak Estonian in order to find a job, but I think it's not so necessary to be able to speak Estonian in the kind of business I work in.”
Language training ranks second after maritime, transport and logistics on the list of the kind of training most provided by Töötukassa.
Both Soares and Mohammed agree that more counseling and training services by Töötukassa could help many unemployed get hired faster.
Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn